Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Looking Up: Researcher Sees Promise in Latest FAA Drone Exemptions

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Looking Up: Researcher Sees Promise in Latest FAA Drone Exemptions

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - An exemption granted by the Federal Aviation Administration this week for unmanned aerial systems use in agriculture is a good sign for Oklahoma farmers. They may soon be able to send drone technology into the sky to monitor their crops and herds, Noble Foundation researcher Corey Moffet said.

Moffet is closely watching the FAA for clues as to how the agency will shape regulations for commercial drone use. His agronomy work at the nonprofit Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore normally relies on more expensive aircraft with a pilot in the cockpit. Moffet's fantasy list of research projects would be more cost- effective if he could rely on an unmanned, 2-kilogram planes and copters.

"Our end in mind is to develop applications for ag producers," he said Wednesday. "There's a lot of things that we can see from the air that aren't as easily seen from the ground - for example, where the planter has skipped a crop line, or nonoptimal fertilizer applications. It would also be useful for finding livestock animals in brushier country.

"Small (unmanned aerial vehicles) would make those sorts of operations so much more economically feasible for small producers, so there's a lot of value to ag in these regulations," he said.

The FAA's latest exemptions to the current ban on commercial drone flights were granted to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Star, Idaho, for activities referred to as crop scouting, and to Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona.

The FAA has received more than 200 requests from commercial entities to use drones, officials reported. Before this week, the agency had granted only 12 exemptions to companies involved in petroleum, filmmaking, landfill and a few other industries. Pressure is being applied by Congress to allow companies broader access to U.S. skies, particularly since FAA officials missed their own deadline to propose regulations before 2014 ended.

Oklahoma missed out on a competitive bid last year to be named a test site for drone development while the FAA works out those rules, which was a huge disappointment to Moffet and others such as Jamey Jacob, a professor of aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University. …

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